Wednesday, April 07, 2010

What can the Swiss teach us?

Plenty, apparently:

Learning from what works
Low taxes and financial privacy laws should be emulated
[...] In many ways, Switzerland seems unlikely to be such a long-term global success story. It is a small country with religious and language differences; nevertheless, the Swiss have managed to live peaceably together for a long time. It has few natural resources, yet it has managed to have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. It has a world-class health care system, which is privately run. Health care insurance is subsidized, and everyone has access regardless of income, but there is no "public option."

Switzerland is not perfect, but it is clean, prosperous, well-managed, pleasant, humane and very free. In the more than three decades I have been coming to Switzerland, I have been convinced that the United States and the rest of the world can learn from many things the Swiss have done. The Swiss are practical rather than ideological, but they do revere liberty. They protect private property and free markets and restrain themselves from rampant deficit spending. The Swiss maintain a sound currency, which has been rising against the euro, dollar and pound. Capital, goods and services, with few exceptions, move freely into and out of the country.

Long ago, the Swiss understood that most things government needs to do and constructively does are at the local level. So, unlike in most modern nation-states, local government has the bulk of the resources and activities, while the central government remains relatively small and less important in the daily lives of the people. In the U.S., roughly two-thirds of government is at the federal level, and one third is at the state and local level. Switzerland is just the opposite, with roughly two-thirds of government being at the state (canton) and local level. Both the United States and Switzerland are federal republics. If one reads the Federalist Papers and the other works of the American Founding Fathers, it is clear they envisioned a nation that operates much more like Switzerland than one with the large central government the U.S. now has.

The maximum marginal tax rate at the federal level in Switzerland is about 11.5 percent, while in the U.S., it will be more than 40 percent as a result of Obamacare and the planned expiration of the George W. Bush tax-rate cuts at the end of this year. In Switzerland, maximum income tax rates in the cantons range from 10.9 percent in Zug to about 30 percent in places like Geneva. In the U.S., state and local income tax rates range from zero in places like Texas and Florida to roughly 12 percent in New York City and California. Thus, the overall maximum income tax rate in Switzerland ranges from roughly 20 percent to 40 percent, depending on location, while in the U.S., the maximum rate ranges from 40 percent to 51 percent.

Switzerland also does not impose a capital gains tax, and most cantons allow large deductions for interest and dividends. On the negative side, Switzerland imposes a value-added tax (VAT) and a very small wealth tax. On the positive side, the average combined federal-canton corporate tax rate is 21.3 percent (and may be as low as 11.8 percent in some places) while in the U.S., the average combined federal-state rate is more than 40 percent. [...]

There is a right way and a wrong way to tax people. The right way does not sink the ship. No country is perfect, but we can always learn from what works.

Also see: The Swiss, and their Guns


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